Tonight’s guest blog post has been sent to me because the author wishes to share it with this blog’s audience – for which I am very grateful – and to remain anonymous (you’ll see why, although I have read similar stories elsewhere) but no matter how much Banoffee Pie you try to bribe me with, I won’t tell. 🙂
The mid-list author’s version of the bleak truth
I’m not trying to discourage anyone from writing, because if someone wants to write a book, they won’t be stopped by these cynical rantings. This is more to alert aspiring authors about what to expect; and what not to expect.
You thought an editor’s signature on a contract was the real deal, your personal Shangri-La? This is what you’ve been working towards all these years, and now you’ve arrived? Think again. This isn’t where it ends – this is where all the hard work starts.
Publishers are the strangest creatures and publishing is a deeply screwy business. It’s difficult to imagine another business in which a manufacturer (a publisher) will buy raw material (your manuscript), polish it, edit it, check it, get it typeset, commission a cover and have it printed – and then not make much of an effort to encourage anyone to buy it.
Can you imagine a manufacturer of let’s say chairs, who does the business, produces some world-beating chairs, and then just stacks them at the back of a dusty furniture shop in the hope that a passing customer on the way to Ikea might notice them?
It’s not a perfect analogy, but close enough. That’s what publishers do. Well, not quite. But that’s what publishers do with the vast majority of brand-new authors and their mid-list, generally not well-known fiction writers, like me.
These days a new author doesn’t get much of a chance to prove him/herself. It’s perform or die. A few years ago a new author would be given the leeway of maybe half a dozen books to build a following, but now it can be one book and you’re out if it doesn’t sell immediately, or if marketing doesn’t like the colour of your eyes. Newish novelists are dropped without a shred of compunction to make way for the next influx of bright-eyed guinea pigs.
Behind the fluff, publishing is a hard business made even harder by the likes of supermarkets and Amazon muscling in on the book business and pulling its pigtails. Publishing is a business increasingly run by accountants and there is no room for those who don’t pay their way from the word go, and never forget that marketing is king. Even a senior editor will respond to a question or a suggestion with ‘I’ll check with marketing…’
It’s one of the things that a new author isn’t told and should be. The reality is that if you’re not a celeb of some kind, and if your advance (if you’re lucky enough to have one) is less than £5000, then don’t expect to be promoted too energetically, if at all.
It doesn’t help that editorial, publicity and marketing don’t tend to talk to each other too much. You may be the apple of your editor’s eye, but if the head of marketing (who almost certainly has better things to do than to actually read first novels by unknowns) doesn’t take a shine to your book, then don’t expect much.
Editors tend to be smart, savvy people. Publicity is different. 90% of people who are there to promote books are 26, on their second job after a degree in art history and are called Phoebe, Emma, Charlotte or Xanthe. You get the picture? These aren’t the hard-nosed, aggressive, imaginative types you might find in newspaper or magazine publishing, or even in the marketing department of the Aylesbury Fung Shui Journal.
Publishing is a screwed-up business, as I may have said before. Very little happens quickly. Decisions can take weeks and months. Even the answer to a simple yes/no question can cause endless soul-searching. On the other hand, just to keep the rest of us confused, publishers can occasionally move with lightning speed, such as when some celebrity dies and they can have an unauthorised biography on bookshop shelves within two weeks flat.
As for your brand new novel, the one that you spent a year or more of your life sweating over, Phoebe (or Emma, Charlotte or Xanthe) will send out a press release that may or may not contain typos, based on the blurb on the back of your book, which in turn may not bear a great resemblance to what’s between the covers. A copy of the book will accompany the press release in the hope that someone will flip through it and write a review. That’s if you’re lucky. Most likely it’ll go into a reviewer’s To Be Read pile and may well stay there until it it gets carted off to a local second-hand shop with a load of other unread books from publishers. Alternatively, you’ve a fairly good chance of finding the review copy, unread and unreviewed, for sale on eBay for a couple of quid.
That’s really about it. Phoebe (or Emma, Charlotte or Xanthe) are terribly nice young people and undoubtedly decorative, but they’re supposed to be plugging a hundred or so books a year and they don’t have the time or inclination to do much for each one.
My books don’t even qualify for the minimal effort that a mention on my publisher’s Facebook page would require. Post pic (of cover), a few words, and there’s a few hundred or even thousand interested readers reached. Does it happen? No.
Nobody will tell you this, but it’s all down to you. You may be basking in the warm glow of a contract, overjoyed that the results of al that sweat is actually going to be published in a real book, but unaware that your baby is pretty much going to be left by the publisher to sink or swim.
What can you do about it? The answer is; not a lot. You can hire a publicist, but it’s far from cheap and results are not guaranteed. In fact, a freelance publicist will easily eat up your advance, if you were fortunate enough to have one.
The standard route these days is to get yourself plastered over as much of the internet as possible. Blog and tweet to the point of nausea. Get onto Facebook and make as many friends as you can. The problem is, every other writer in your position is doing just this.
If you have an even vaguely famous friend of some kind, beg or blackmail them to write you a blurb. Persuade anyone and everyone to give you Amazon stars. Be shameless. Take every opportunity. If you get the chance to talk to three people and a small dog in a library or even the back room of a pub, do it. After all, one of them might have a cousin who works for Channel 4… And if that takes off, then you can expect Phoebe (or Emma, Charlotte or Xanthe) to swing into action. But not before.
In the meantime, hang on like grim death to the day job.
Very interesting… thank you.
Bio: The author is a mid-list writer with a modest backlist of novels, currently waiting to find out if marketing is going to allow the author’s editor to commission a few more.
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